Apple trees produce fruit on small branches called spurs. Spurs are found on older, more mature branches and can take several years to develop. At the tip of each spur you will find the terminal bud. This bud is larger than the lateral buds and has a protective scaly cover. Within the scales of the terminal bud found at the tip of each spur are miniature blossoms, waiting to emerge in the spring when environmental conditions are just right. These miniature blossoms were developed during the previous summer months and then lay dormant through the winter.
When a bud on a spur blooms, is pollinated, and sets fruit, all of the energy at this location in the tree is focused on maturing and ripening those apples. If apples are present, your tree will not develop the miniature blossoms on that spur for next year. Your apple tree naturally balances some spurs producing fruit and others producing blossoms.
Next spring, assuming the weather cooperates, your tree will have apples on each spur and none of the spurs will produce blossoms for the next year. And so, the "on year, off year" cycle begins.
Is there anything you can do to get fruit every year again?
To put your tree back to producing fruit every year, you will need to thin the fruit as soon as it sets. Remove all of the fruit on 40-60% of the spurs when you have an "on year". If you do this, your tree will start producing blossoms on those empty spurs for the next spring, and you will once again bring balance to your orchard.
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